Friday, March 14, 2014

"Brundibar" Is Simply "Wunderbar"!!! Underground Railway Theater Presents "Brundibar & But The Giraffe" @ Central Square Theater.

Something wondrous is afoot in Central Square.  Underground Railway Theater is presenting two companion pieces: "Brundibar & But The Giraffe."  This short play and children's opera combination is a "not to be missed" event.  Let me outline some of the reason why I am so passionate about this project.

  • Pultizer Prize Winner Tony Kushner has adapted a children's opera that originated in Czechoslovakia during the Nazi occupation, composed by Hans Krasa and Adolf Hoffmeister. 
  • During the Holocaust, part of the score and libretto were carried to the Terezin concentration camp and recreated.  The opera was performed by children who were imprisoned there.
  • In order to provide some historical context for the opera, Mr. Kushner wrote a short play, "And The Giraffe," that explains how the manuscript of the opera made its way from Prague to Theresienstadt.  In the play, Eva, a brave and self-sacrificing little girl makes a decision to leave her beloved stuffed giraffe behind to allow room in the one suitcase she was allowed for the manuscript to be transported.  Young Nora Iammarino is particularly impressive in the role of Eva.  She demonstrates a mastery of complex dialogue and a range of emotions that would be the envy of many seasoned adult actors.
  • Under the Direction of Scott Edmiston and Musical Direction of Todd C. Gordon, the ensemble of young actors and singers performed flawlessly.  They were singing very complex music with great confidence and precision.
  • The opera is a morality play in which two penniless children attempt to sing to earn money to buy milk for their ailing mother.  They are prevented from singing by the bully, Brundibar (in a terrific portrayal by John J. King), a clownish organ grinder who feels he should have a monopoly on busking in the town square.  
  • In its original context, the opera had obvious political undertones regarding the Nazi regime.  It translates well into our present era in which we are focusing on teaching our children how to deal with bullying.
  • The creative team and the adult actors who have been teaching and supporting the children's ensemble have created an environment and atmosphere that allows the children to shine while they learn.  The individuals responsible are credited below.
  • At a meta-level, under the Artistic Direction of Debra Wise, Underground Railway Theater demonstrates its commitment to train a new generation of artists and audience members who learn early in life how integral the arts must be to a full and balanced existence.
I strongly endorse this production, and encourage you to come to Central Square between now and April 6 - and bring the whole family.  Come to support these gifted young artists; come to be uplifted by them.

". . . And a little child shall lead them." (Isaiah 11:6)


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About Director Scott Edmiston
Scott Edmiston (Director) makes his Central Square Theater debut directing Underground Railway Theater’s Brundibar & But the Giraffe! Mr. Edmiston has previously worked with The Nora Theatre Company (prior to the residence at Central Square Theater) having directed productions of Betrayal (2003 Elliot Norton Award Outstanding Production) and Molly Sweeney (1998). Mr. Edmiston has directed more than 50 Boston-area productions at American Repertory Theatre, Lyric Stage Company, SpeakEasy Stage Company, Huntington Theatre Company, The Nora Theatre Company, Opera Boston, Boston Midsummer Opera, New Repertory Theatre, and Gloucester Stage, among others.  Highlights include Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The History Boys, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Time Stands Still, Other Desert Cities, My Name is Asher Lev , Nixon in China, Five by Tenn, Sunday in the Park with George, In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play), A Marvelous Party, The Light in the Piazza, Happy Days, and Miss Witherspoon. Awards include the 2012 Penn State Distinguished Alumni Award, 2011 Elliot Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence in Theatre 2009 Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Director (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The History Boys, and The Light in the Piazza), 2009 IRNE Award for Best Director of a Musical (The Light in the Piazza), 2006 Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Director (Five by Tenn), 2006 IRNE Award for Best Director (Five by Tenn and The Women), 2005 StageSource Theatre Hero Award, and the 1998 Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Director (Molly Sweeney). Scott has taught at Boston University and Brown University/Trinity Rep, and is currently the director of the office of the arts at Brandeis University.

Todd C. Gordon (Music Director/Pianist) Todd C. Gordon has served as music director for productions with New Repertory Theatre (The ThreePenny Opera, Into the Woods, Ragtime, Lippa’s The Wild Party, Dessa Rose, Cabaret, Gutenberg! The Musical, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, The Black Monk (reading), Side by Side by Sondheim, The Gold Rush Girls (reading), According to Tip with Ken Howard, Sophie Tucker, The Last of the Red Hot Mamas with Mary Callanan, And the World Goes ‘Round, Rent, Little Shop of Horrors), Publick Theatre (H.M.S. Pinafore), Gloucester Stage (Carnival, Jacques Brel….), Charles Playhouse (Tomfoolery), Brandeis Theatre Co. (Sunday in the Park with George), Stoneham Theatre (Gypsy with Leigh Barrett, Groucho with Gabe Kaplan, The Good War) and Emerson Stage (The Music Man, West Side Story, Children of Eden, Working and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas).  For his musical direction Todd has received 2 (two) IRNE awards from the independent reviewers of New England and 5 (five) IRNE nominations. When not working on shows Todd maintains a private vocal studio in the prestigious Steinert Building in Boston.

Phil Berman (Father/Dog) makes his debut on the CST stage, having worked previously as the production dramaturg for Roots of Liberty: The Haitian Revolution and URT’s American Civil War and Ti-Jean and His Brothers. Previous roles include Eggo in The Embryos (Fresh Ink), Ed Bishop in Floyd Collins (Moonbox Productions), Deviser/Narrator in Lunar Labyrinth (Liars and Believers), and as a co-creator and performer in the ongoing weekly toddler series Puppet Playtime (Puppet Showplace Theatre). Upcoming: Astroboy and the God of Comics (Company One). Phil is a member playwright of Boston Public Works. An album of his original music will be recorded in August.

Christie Lee Gibson (Mother/Cat) is a multidimensional artist who also works as a director, writer, and as general director of OperaHub. Previous credits include Jeanne in Jeanne's Fantasy, Sue in Sunday with Joy, Narrator in La Grenouille à grande bouche (Fort Point Theatre Channel); Hamlet in English and Gertrude in Spanish in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Actress 2 in Enjoy (Apollinaire Theatre Company); Socrate, The Four-Note Opera, The Choose-Your-Own Opera, Der Zwerg, L'Incoronazione di Poppea (OperaHub); The Actress in The Blue Room directed by Paula Plum at the Roberts Studio Theater; Avigail in Shulamis with new English dialogue at Harvard's Agassiz Theatre; Mrs. Japhett in Noye's Fludde (Falmouth Chorale); Ensemble/Musician in A Christmas Carol (Hanover Theater).

John F. King (Brundibar) Previous credits include Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman (IRNE Award), Cosmic/Director Bob in The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin (SpeakEasy Stage Company); u/s Whizzer in Falsettos (Huntington Theatre Co.); Conductor Flanagan in On The Twentieth Century starring Alice Ripley (Overture Productions); Edward Rutledge in 1776 (Lyric Stage Company of Boston); Carnival, Most Happy Fella (Gloucester Stage Company); Rooster in  Annie (Wheelock Family Theatre); Spamalot, Singing in the Rain The Producers, Spelling Bee, The Fantasticks, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Miss Saigon (IRNE nomination), Aida, Show Boat, Company, Smokey Joe’s Café, Chess, Last Night of Ballyhoo, Ragtime, The Rocky Horror Show, Cabaret , 42nd Street, La Cage Aux Folles, The Who’s Tommy, Blood Brothers , and Jesus Christ Superstar (The Company Theatre).  

Rebecca Klein (Aninku) Previous credits: The Diary of Anne Frank (Quannapowitt Playhouse); Spring Awakening (The Firehouse Center for the Arts); Les Misérables, Into the Woods, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; Snow White, Shrek the Musical (Peacock Players); Rent (The Performing Arts Connection); Footloose, Once on this Island, Grease (Bedford High School); and Fiddler on the Roof (John Glenn Middle School). She is a senior at Bedford High School. Awards: EMACT DASH Best Youth Actor/Actress (2012), EMACT DASH Best Ensemble Performance (2012), New Hampshire Theatre Awards Best Supporting Youth Actress (2013).

Jeremiah Kissel (Grandpa) makes his Central Square Theater debut in Brundibar. Previous Boston-area work includes productions at Huntington Theatre Co., American Repertory Theatre, Commonwealth Shakespeare Co., Lyric Stage Co. of Boston, New Repertory Theatre, and The Charles Playhouse. In New York, he has worked with West Side Rep and Abingdon Theater. Film and television credits include The Fighter, The Town, The Great Debaters, and Body of Proof. He was a recipient of the Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence in 2003.

Alec Shiman (Pepicek) Alec Shiman returns to CST after playing Jessie in last season’s Distracted (URT), for which he was recently nominated for the 2014 IRNE award for Most Promising Young Performer. Other credits include Gavroche in Les Misérables, Michael Banks in Mary Poppins, Gypsy (Maine State Music Theatre); Ragtime (Fiddlehead Theatre Company); To Kill a Mockingbird and James and the Giant Peach (Boston Children's Theatre). Alec received two IRNE nominations for Best Performance by a Young Actor for Ragtime and To Kill a Mockingbird and a BroadwayWorld Nomination for Les Miserables. In his spare time, Alec enjoys playing sports and spending time with friends.

Patrick Varner (Rudy/Brundibar Conductor) Theatre: The Comedy of Errors (Anthem Theatre), Winans Family Musical Workshop (dir. Charles Randolph Wright, ArtsEmerson), Fred! The Musical (Cutler Majestic), Hamlet, The Country Wife (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), Shining City, Buried Child, Camille (Boston University). Television: I (almost) Got Away with it (Discovery Networks). BFA Acting, Boston University; London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Debra Wise (Grandmother/Sparrow; Artistic Director, Underground Railway Theater) is a founding member of Underground Railway Theater (URT) and has served as artistic director since 1998.  She has been involved in the creation of over 30 new works, as performer, playwright, director, and/or dramaturg. Wise is also artistic co-director of Catalyst Collaborative@MIT, the ongoing science theater project between CST and MIT. She has appeared in six CC@MIT productions, including Einstein’s Dreams (based on the novel by Alan Lightman), Melinda Lopez’ From Orchids to Octopi: An Evolutionary Love Story and Wes Savick’s Yesterday Happened: Remembering H.M. Wise has received three Best Actress IRNE nominations (2012-The How and the Why, The Nora Theatre Company; 2011-Breaking the Code, URT/CC@MIT; 2010-A Christmas Memory, URT). She has performed at The Public in NYC (The Haggadah, by Elizabeth Swados and Julie Taymor) and with other Boston-area companies (New Rep, SpeakEasy, Súgán, and the Revels).  From 1997 to 2003, Wise co-directed the Women on Top Theater Festival of new works by New England women theater artists. She is a theater specialist for Art Works for Schools, a collaboration with Harvard’s Project Zero. She has taught at Tufts (Theater and Active Citizenship), MIT, and Northeastern.  She has led URT collaborations in non-traditional venues, including with the National Park Service, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Museum of Science, New Center for Arts and Culture, Mary Baker Eddy Library, and Mount Auburn Cemetery.  In 2001, Wise spearheaded Art InterACTions, using performance to engage audiences with visual art, which has played at the MFA, the ICA, and on the streets of Cambridge in dialogue with public art.

The creative team for BRUNDIBAR & BUT THE GIRAFFE! includes Choreography by Illyse Robbins, Scenic Designer Jenna McFarland Lord, Costume Designer Leslie Held, Lighting Designer Karen Perlow, Sound Designer Kyle Olmstead, and Puppetry Design by David Fichter. Joe Stallone is the Properties Master and Dominique D. Burford is the production Stage Manager, and Misaki Nishimiya is the production Assistant Stage Manager.

BRUNDIBAR & BUT THE GIRAFFE! plays at Central Square Theater, 450 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, now through Sunday, April 6, 2014. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30PM, Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 3PM and 8PM, and Sundays at 2PM. Tickets may be purchased by calling (866) 811-4111, at the Central Square Theater box office, or online at For box office hours, group discounts, and more information call (617) 576-9278 x210.  

Central Square Theater (CST) opened in 2008 through a groundbreaking partnership between The Nora Theatre Company (The Nora) and Underground Railway Theater (URT). This collaboration has been called a model for the arts community (The Boston Foundation, Culture is our Commonwealth, and The National Collaboration Prize), as it has paired two like-minded performing arts organizations in a strategic alliance with the City of Cambridge and MIT, resulting in the development of a state-of-the-art performing arts center in the heart of Central Square. CST has a mission to support its two theaters-in-residence while maintaining a shared vision of artists and audiences creating theater vital to their communities. The Nora and URT have a combined track record of over 50 years producing award-winning theater. Located in Central Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and steeped in its multiracial, intergenerational, ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods, the CST theater experience exudes a democratic energy where classes, races and age groups come together to be inspired, entertained and energized.

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